99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Fairfax/Hancock Park

Angelini Osteria

photo by Anne Fishbein

The past year has seen a renaissance of Italian pasta in Los Angeles, with a number of fantastic new places devoted to making it. But it’s still hard to find a better Italian restaurant in this town than Gino Angelini’s osteria on Beverly Boulevard. Open since 2001, Angelini Osteria is happily timeless, and as good as ever. Go at lunch in truffle season for a plate of ethereal spaghetti alla chitarra with black truffles and sausage, or for a weekend dinner of porchetta — a glorious ode to pig borne aloft by servers with Old World accents, then carved tableside. The food is terrific, and the little dining room is as crowded as an Italian farmhouse kitchen at mealtimes, only here, the old men will be eating bone marrow with saffron gnocchetti with their bottles of wine. Invariably, the chef will be in the kitchen, the house-made pasta will be bliss-inducing — and there will be affogato for dessert.

-- Amy Scattergood

Animal

photo by Anne Fishbein

Perusing the menu at Animal is like looking at the source material for L.A.’s culinary thesis statement of the previous few years, an original text in a sea of derivative essays. As such, it’s easy to feel as if you may be bored with pig ears topped with fried egg, or crispy Brussels sprouts, or pork belly sandwiches. Rest assured, you still want to eat these things; you just want them cooked by the original authors. Chefs Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook will remind you why their restaurant inspired so many imitations. It’s their flawless understanding of acid, which makes even the menu’s meatiest dish sing with balance and pop with flavor. It’s their ability to access their Southern roots without cooking overtly Southern food, as well as the way they draw on their Californian present without falling victim to fig-on-a-plate syndrome. It’s the fact that they do all these dishes so well — there’s an underpinning of technique and thoughtfulness that permeates everything coming out of this kitchen. So much of what we find kind of annoying in other restaurants (no sign, loud room, relentlessly trendy clientele) seems utterly worth it — even fun! — in this instance. Animal is the restaurant that launched a thousand imitators, the place started the dude-food movement, and the original that sowed the seeds for what is becoming a mini-empire (Son of a Gun, Trois Mec and at least two other forthcoming projects also are thanks to Shook and Dotolo). For all this, there’s just no denying that Animal is still one of L.A.’s most exciting places to eat.

-- Besha Rodell

Mozza

photo by Anne Fishbein

Culinarily speaking, the southwest corner of Melrose and Highland is one of the most important street corners in the country. Nancy Silverton, along with business partners Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, has built her empire in one collection of adjacent, interlocking buildings — a place you might think of as Los Angeles’ culinary heart. Technically, we’re talking about three separate operations (or four, if you count Mozza2Go), but as a group, Pizzeria Mozza, Osteria Mozza and Chi Spacca all exemplify Silverton’s fierce dedication to quality Italian cooking. The pizza at the convivial, packed pizzeria ushered in a new school of California pizza making — a revolution, really — that prizes dough and farmers market–fresh toppings above all else. The osteria remains one of L.A.’s grandest restaurant experiences, chef Matt Molina’s antipasti, pastas and rustic meat dishes showcasing the best of what happens when tradition and talent collide. And the baby of the bunch, Chi Spacca, has provided a platform for young chef Chad Colby to delve deeply into the philosophy of meat, giving Angelenos some of the most stunning charcuterie in the country, as well as mammoth cuts of meat you won’t find elsewhere.

-- Besha Rodell

République

photo by Anne Fishbein

It’s been a long time since L.A. has tasted the full potential of chef Walter Manzke, but République makes the wait worthwhile. Along with his wife, Margarita Manzke, and restaurateur Bill Chait, Manzke has taken the soaring, dramatic space that for more than 20 years was Campanile and given it bustling new life. In many ways, the trio is trying to create a restaurant for all occasions: a bakery and cafe during the day, a casual chic bar where you can slurp oysters and be on your way at night, or a spendy restaurant where you might have the meal of your life. This last piece of the puzzle will become even more fully realized when Manzke starts serving tasting menus, which he promises to do in the coming months. In the meantime, his mainly French (but also slightly Italian) menu delivers plenty to be excited about: a charcuterie board that delves deeply into the philosophy of country pâtés; butter-and-garlic-drenched escargot en croute; classic dishes like Dover sole that require the skills of a chef as dedicated to craft as he is to fashion. Add Margarita Manzke’s stunning rustic desserts, and a wine list that packs an encyclopedia of knowledge and fun onto one page, and you have a restaurant that easily could delight us for 20 years to come.

-- Besha Rodell

Trois Mec

photo by Anne Fishbein

When Trois Mec opened in April it had so much personality, and so much about it felt fresh and exhilarating, that it was hard to imagine it could get much better. But brace yourselves: Trois Mec has undoubtedly gotten better. The tiny nook of a restaurant, a collaboration between Ludo Lefebvre and Animal chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, still boasts all the excitement Lefebvre was putting on the plate in those early days — but if anything, the cooking has become more heady, more precise and more creative. And that’s although it was pretty damn impressive to begin with. It’s hard to think of another chef who could make the highlight of a meal out of a grilled cabbage leaf, but Lefebvre chars the sturdy leaf and serves it with a silken miso flan, smoked almond milk anglaise and fennel pollen. It’s shockingly good. Every dish in the five-course tasting, in fact, is a small revelation (a dessert made out of brie creme, apple butter and toasted barley? Yes, please). The wine list, too, has matured into a thing of beauty, completely worthy of the food it complements. Yes, you have to buy tickets in advance through a janky website. Yes, the system often crashes. And yes, the place is a tad hard to find. But once you’re here, it’s like an intimate dinner party where the hosts play French hip-hop, pour amazing wine and serve what may well be the best food in town.

-- Besha Rodell